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May 19 2020

Indigenous Voices: The Importance of the Badger-Two Medicine

Blackfeet tribal member and artist Jesse DesRosier reflects on what this place means to him

This is the second installment of "Indigenous Voices," a series about Montana’s historical tribal lands - today’s public lands - seen through the eyes of tribal members across the state.

The English names of Badger Creek and Two Medicine River have been borrowed from the Blackfoot language. They are direct translations. In my language, the original names of these powerful water systems are Miisinskiisah’taa and Naatookyookaasin. Both are places of memory for all Niitsitapi (Blackfoot) people. To my Pikuni (Piegan) people, they serve as a reminder of who we are. Their stories tell our history. 

I think of these stories when I try to add a picture to a blank page. My mind shuffles through bits of the stories I can recall, trying to focus on just one. The images I depict are formatted from ancient symbols passed on through our oral stories and pictographs, which were once drawn on buffalo hide. Winter counts – historical Blackfoot records drawn on these hides – tell the stories of our history, and in them I found fitting inspiration for my representation of Badger-Two Medicine (below).

 

Badger-Two Medicine art

Jesse DesRosier's depiction of the Badger-Two Medicine was inspired by traditional Blackfoot winter counts, visual depictions of tribal records and events (courtesy of Jesse DesRosier)

 

The two rivers, Miisinskiisah’taa and Naatookyookaasin, join. From the mountain front to the plains flat, they are part of the Blackfoot homelands. In the Blackfoot language, the concept of ownership is very different than it is in English. For Blackfoot, it is impossible to say that we “own” these landscapes. It is essential that we remember that we are part of these landscapes and they are part of us.

There is also no word in Blackfoot for “art,” except for contemporary constructs. Some might find this surprising, as our entire lives were made up of artwork. One could say that, from our clothing, lodges, weapons, ceremonial objects, winter count paintings, and face paint, we surrounded ourselves with art. But we never called it art because it was very intentional. Everything has a meaning and a story; every Blackfoot person has the power to understand those meanings and stories, and therefore to create them. To us, “art” is simply our accounts of our personal and cultural stories from the natural and spiritual realm, recreated for others to see.

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"The Badger-Two Medicine is the only place upon my sacred body that is without scars; the last place in my country that hasn’t been bled out or sucked dry; the last place that is without poison."

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In this image, I wanted to highlight the importance of water. These rivers are like the veins in my body. They pump the life blood into my heart. Badger Canyon is very special and it holds the origins of my people. The mountains within it are named after our creators, our sacred beings, our superheroes. The beings in my piece are representations of a modern Pikuni family and some of the animals that dwell within Badger-Two Medicine.

The Badger-Two Medicine is the only place upon my sacred body that is without scars; the last place in my country that hasn’t been bled out or sucked dry; the last place that is without poison. It is and always has been a sanctuary to my people who seek peace, roots, or medicines, those who hunt and provide, and those families who seek balance from our contemporary lives. The Miisinskiisah’taa and Naatookyookaasin, the Badger-Two Medicine, is the last best place in Pikuni Sahkoyii (Piegan Territory) and I will do my duty to protect it and honor my ancestors.

- Jesse DesRosier is a father, artist, veteran, and Blackfoot language instructor at the Piegan Institute and Blackfeet Community College